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Beyond the Baseline

Rafael Nadal on recent struggles: Get used to it

Rafael Nadal Rafael Nadal had another narrow escape at the Italian Open. (Michael Regan/Getty Images)

ROME -- No. 1 Rafael Nadal survived another tough three-set match at the Italian Open, rallying past Mikhail Youzhny 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-1 on Friday to advance to the quarterfinals.

Less than 24 hours after defeating Gilles Simon 7-6 (1), 6-7 (4), 6-2 in the ATP's longest three-set match of the year -- it lasted 3 hours and 19 minutes -- Nadal continued to struggle to find his rhythm and range against the 16th-ranked Youzhny. He led 5-3 in the first set, but Youzhny came back to win a tiebreaker. Nadal also fell behind an early break in the second set before reeling off 12 of the last 13 games to prevail in 2 hours and 44 minutes.

Nadal, a seven-time champion, will play Andy Murray next. The two have combined to win four of the last six Grand Slam tournaments but haven't met since 2011.

The 27-year-old Spaniard tried to offer some perspective when a reporter noted that it's unusual for him to struggle so early in clay-court tournaments.

"Get used to [it]," he said. "Because with the years it is the normal thing and in the end everybody suffers. It's part of the sport. It's part of the careers of everybody."

Nadal has now logged more than six hours on the court over the last two days. He also was in the midst of a three-set match on Sunday when Kei Nishikori -- who was up a set and a break at one point -- retired from their final at the Madrid Open.

"I am almost 28. At this age, [Bjorn] Borg was doing other things," Nadal said. "It's not possible to win for 10 years a lot of matches with easy results, easy scores. At the same time, I am sure that I can do it much better than I am doing. I need to do it. When somebody wants to do it, when somebody is fighting to do it, a lot of times you find the solutions. I am fighting in every match."

In preparation for his French Open title defense, Nadal has lost in the quarterfinals of the Monte Carlo Masters and Barcelona Open, won the Madrid Open and now worked his way into the final eight in Rome. Though not in peak form, Nadal takes positives from his ability to battle.

"You always have to find the positive thing because you play the next day and it's important to look around and say I was able to play with the right passion," he said. "I was able to play with the right motivation to win the mach even if the feelings were not perfect. So that's always very good news."

He leads the head-to-head against Murray 13-5 and has never lost to the Brit on clay. Unlike Nadal, Murray hasn't dropped a set in his first two matches, against Marcel Granollers and Jurgen Melzer.

"Tomorrow is the day to make a little bit of change and to go for the ball, for the points," Nadal said. "We'll see. If I play well, I'm going to have my chances. If not, I'm going to spend a weekend in Mallorca."

Also Thursday, No. 2 Novak Djokovic came back to beat Philipp Kohlschreiber 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, and Tommy Haas upset No. 3 Stanislas Wawrinka 5-7, 6-2, 6-3. Wawrinka said he sustained a minor back injury in his opening win against Pere Riba, but emphasized he would be fine after a few days of rest.
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